The first evidence of our crafty welding skills appeared more than 6,000 years ago in the prehistoric Middle East as copper objects.
People wanted to work faster and eat better, so they used copper, which was easily malleable, to make agricultural tools such as hoes and sickles and cookware like dishes and pots.
But it was only when the Roman Empire took over Europe around 20 AD that iron welding and forging became widespread. Belgian workers perfected the process and through what must have been hundreds of years of sharing and practicing, the technology traveled east through China to Japan. In the 700s, Japan developed its famous Samurai swords using repeated welding and forging.
Welding continued as an essential industry for war and daily living over the next 1,100 years. Then came the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s and welding went into hyperdrive.
Together with the discovery of electricity and the invention of rudimentary torches, industrialists created reliable welding methods that ushered in groundbreaking advances in manufacturing and construction. Welders built production lines, ships, and buildings that had never been seen before.
Since then, we’ve relied on welding to construct some of the most awe-inspiring projects in history. Our team at Surehand has compiled five of the biggest welds ever made. Read on below to see if you know them all!
Once the tallest building in the world before the World Trade Center was completed in 1972, the Empire State Building is an iconic construction marvel that’s etched into the mind of most Americans.
Over 3,400 workers worked on the project daily and just after 14 months of construction, it was completed in May 1931.
What sets the Empire State Building apart from most other skyscrapers is that its construction began at the height of the Great Depression. The project started as a competition between the owners of General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation over who could construct a taller building.
John Raskob of General Motors was so fiercely determined to outperform Chrysler that he gathered the nation’s top financiers to commit to one of the most daring financial investments of that era.The building was finished below budget at a cost of around $40 million and ahead of schedule.
Welders were an integral part of the construction. The 1,250-foot tall building project employed hundreds of welders who were so eager to keep their jobs that they worked at astonishing speeds.
They had to balance themselves delicately on steel beams high up in the sky while joining girders together and welding rivets in place.
Only five casualties were recorded at the end of construction despite the crazy conditions these workers had to go through.
In October 1965, the last piece of the St. Louis Gateway Arch in Missouri was fit into place. Built to commemorate the westward expansion of the United States, the Arch took two years to complete and today stands as the tallest arch in the world.
Welders interested in history will know the Arch to be one of the most challenging welds to have ever been completed. 142 equilateral steel triangles had to be welded in place to create a structure that curves to a height of 630 feet above ground.
The first 300 or so feet of the arch was reinforced with concrete and iron rods to ensure stability. But everything above that, basically 50% of the remaining structure, would only be held together by welds.
280 men worked tirelessly to fabricate, cut, and weld over 900 lbs of steel to assemble the monument. Everything had to be precise to ensure that the structure would stay firmly in place after construction.
Over 50 years later, the welds have stayed firmly in place. It’s able to withstand earthquakes and extremely high winds that are up to 150 miles per hour. To accommodate these conditions, the arch is designed to sway up to 18 inches.
Needless to say, the Arch is a testament to the expertise of welders who not only had to pass difficult tests to qualify for work on this project but also exhibit ingenuity in their work.
The Langeled Pipeline’s Easington Terminal / Photo by Norsk Hydro / © Norsk Hydro ASA 2002, Attribution Wikimedia Commons
Though little known outside the welding and engineering community, the Langeled Pipeline in Norway is the world’s longest underwater gas pipeline.
Nicknamed the Giant Serpent, the pipeline delivers natural gas from Norway’s Ormen Lange field to Easington on the UK’s east coast via 1,166km of piping. That’s the same distance it would take you to drive from New York City to Chicago.
Construction on the pipeline took three years and was managed by the giants of the petroleum industry: ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Stat Oil. It was a highly complex project that needed to take into account the gales and giant waves that are common at sea level.
During construction, special pipe-laying ships laid 4km of pipe per day, which were then checked by divers to make sure they were ready for welding.
To join together nearly 100,000 individual pipe sections, teams of welders worked from a watertight construction area called the Pipeline Repair Habitat utilising hyperbaric welds. Some parts of the ocean were so cold that antifreeze had to be used to keep the gas flowing.
The pipe has been in operation since October 2007 and delivers 20% of the United Kingdom’s natural gas supply.
The Maersk Triple E / Photo by Igor Mak / Own work, CC0 Wikimedia Commons
Welders in the maritime industry will have heard of this one. The Matz Maersk Triple E is one of the world’s largest ships, at 194 feet wide and a whopping 1,312 feet long. Just imagine the Empire State Building laid horizontally across the ground and turned into a ship – yep, that’s how long this ship is.
Designed for maximum efficiency, each ship can transport 18,000 containers between Europe and Asia, mainly China. The ships have been recognized for their extremely low fuel consumption, unconventional hull design, and twin diesel engines with twin propellers.
31 of these ships have been completed as of 2020, and many are in active operation on the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.
To build each ship, welders must join 24 megablocks of steel using a type of ultra-thick bond called an erection joint, totaling about 5km of welding per ship. Cracks in the welding are a huge risk, so teams recruit the help of welding robots that can quickly weld a joint securely in just one pass.
Even with the help of robots, dozens of welders are required to weld other parts of the ship by hand. Each ship takes about 440 days to build and the first Triple E sailed out of Daewoo’s South Korea shipyard in July 2013.
The world’s tenth tallest building tops our list of the biggest welds in history. The 1667-foot tall Taipei 101 building in Taiwan is the only skyscraper built near a major fault line that can also withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of 9.0 and fierce typhoon winds.
It’s strengthened by a remarkable mega column made from an outer steel portion and an inner reinforced concrete section. It acts as the core of the building and was welded together by hand over a period of two years.
What also helps the building stay grounded in the event of an earthquake or a typhoon is a large sphere-shaped mass damper suspended between the 87th and 92nd floors of the tower. The dampener is basically a steel pendulum held in place by ropes to prevent the building from swaying too hard.
To create the damper pendulum, workers had to carry 41 circular steel plates of varying diameters, each about 5 inches thick, up to the area where the damper was to be assembled. Then welders had to join the plates together on the spot because the completed damper was too heavy to be moved again.
The Taipei 101’s mass damper is the world’s largest and heaviest and cost $4 million to build.
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